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Overview of ASIO

ASIO's purpose is to protect the nation, its people and its interests from threats to security through intelligence collection and assessment, and to provide advice to the Australian Government, government agencies and business.1 Our functions are set out in the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation Act 1979 (the ASIO Act) 2.

In 2016-17, we pursued our purpose through five activities: 3

  • countering terrorism and the promotion of communal violence;
  • countering espionage, foreign interference and malicious insiders;
  • countering serious threats to Australia's border integrity;
  • providing protective security advice to government and business; and
  • collecting foreign intelligence in Australia.

Countering terrorism and the promotion of communal violence

Since the late 1960s, when terrorism began to directly affect Australia, we have been working to prevent terrorist attacks and disrupt the activities of terrorists who threaten Australia and its interests. The recent rise of Islamist extremist terrorism has resulted in several successful terrorist attacks against Australians both here and overseas. One of our key focuses is the threat from a small number of Australians, both in Australia and in the Syria–Iraq conflict zone, who have the potential to conduct or inspire attacks. However, we also remain alert to the potential for acts of violence which are not linked to Islamist extremist terrorism.

Our unique contribution to the fight against terrorism is our ability to predict and anticipate emerging threat, to collect and assess intelligence, and to provide advice to our partners that enables them to take timely action to protect Australians and their interests. Our intelligence has been instrumental in disrupting numerous terrorist attacks in Australia and overseas.

Countering espionage, foreign interference and malicious insiders

Australia has long been a target of espionage and foreign interference by hostile foreign intelligence services. Espionage can involve the theft of sensitive, privileged or classified information which results in harm to Australia's national interests. Foreign interference can involve undue influence of our political processes or public opinion to the benefit of a foreign power. Malicious insiders can exploit their trusted access to intentionally or unintentionally assist a foreign power, or to harm Australia's interests.

ASIO has specific legislative responsibility for countering espionage and foreign interference. We work closely with partners in Australia and overseas to detect and degrade the harmful activities of our adversaries. We have recently detected and degraded significant hostile foreign intelligence activity against Australia's interests. We also work across government and private industry to increase awareness of the threat, and develop effective countermeasures.

Countering serious threats to Australia's border integrity

Australia's prosperity relies upon the movement of people and goods across its border. But some adversaries–such as its terrorists or people smugglers–may try to exploit our border to further their own interests or harm us.

We work with partners to protect Australia from serious threats to its border integrity. We provide security assessments on people seeking visas to come to Australia, and we support whole-of-government efforts to counter and disrupt people smugglers.

Providing protective security advice to government and business

Protective security advice helps government, business, and owners of critical infrastructure to make decisions about how they protect their information, people and assets.

We deliver protective security advice to government and the private sector through our security assessments on people seeking access to classified information, support to the Australian Government's foreign investment decision-making processes, and through our ASIO-T4 and BGLU.

Collecting foreign intelligence in Australia

Foreign intelligence is intelligence about the capabilities, intentions or activities of people and organisations offshore. ASIO assists other members of the Australian Intelligence Community (AIC) to collect foreign intelligence in Australia.

We harness our expertise in security, unique intelligence collection capabilities, strong national and international partnerships, and all-source intelligence analysis capabilities to provide trusted, actionable advice for our stakeholders.

A snapshot of what ASIO does and how we do it is provided at Chart 1.

ASIO exists to protect Australia, its people and its interests from threats to security

Chart 1: ASIO - what we do and how we do it.

PDF Version of Organisational Structure

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1 This purpose statement was included in our corporate plan for 2016-2017 and reflects our outcome in the ASIO portfolio budget statement 2016-17. This outcome is supported by Program 1.1: security intelligence. Return to text

2 The ASIO Act is available online from The link to the compilation current at the time of writing is Return to text

#3 For 2017-2018, we have adopted a four-activity structure. Return to text